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How to remove your public information from the web

In today’s digital world, personal information that isn’t properly protected online exposes people to a range of dangers, such as identity theft, cyberstalking, or unwanted marketing solicitations. In fact, in 2022, over 422 million people were impacted by identity theft in 2022 alone.  

Consequently, removing your personal information from the web has become an essential practice to safeguard your privacy and security. 

Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to ensure the complete erasure of all data related to you on the Internet. However, you can take steps to minimize your digital footprint by deleting your social media and email accounts, contacting website owners to remove your data, using online reputation management services, removing your information from data brokers, and requesting search engines to remove your personal information.

Here, we will walk you through the process of reducing your digital footprint, via the steps of finding, assessing, and removing public information about yourself from the Internet. The process starts by first knowing what information is live, and where it’s published. 

1. Find and assess your public information

To begin, you need to know where your personal information is located on the web. Here’s how you can find it:

Search engines and social media platforms

Start by searching your name in popular search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. Remember to use variations of your name, including maiden names and nicknames. 

Don’t forget to check the images, videos, and news tabs for additional results. Additionally, search for your information on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

To ensure thoroughness, look into lesser-known platforms like Reddit, Quora, or industry-specific forums.

It’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet at this stage, recording each domain and specific website which mentions you or information about you. This makes the process easier later on. 

Use “people search” websites

There are many “people search” websites that aggregate personal information from various sources. 

Websites like Whitepages, Spokeo, and Intelius are examples of these. Search for your information on these websites as well. Note that some websites may require you to create an account or pay a fee to access more detailed information.

How to assess your public information

After locating your information, determine which pieces are potentially harmful or overly revealing. 

Pay special attention to sensitive information such as addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, and Social Security numbers. Also, consider whether certain photos, videos, or posts could be damaging to your reputation or career prospects.

Hedgehog removing personal details from the Internet with a sponge

2. Delete personal information from social media accounts

The next step is to go back into your spreadsheet, decide which information you want to go, and then remove your personal information from social media platforms and other hosting locations. Here’s how to do this:

A step-by-step guide to deleting social media accounts

Here are steps you can take to wiping your social media accounts and the information within them.

  • Start by accessing each of your social media accounts, navigating to the account settings, and selecting the option to delete or deactivate your account. Keep in mind that the process for each platform may differ slightly. For example, Facebook requires you to submit a request for account deletion, while Twitter allows you to delete your account directly from the settings menu. Note that some platforms, like LinkedIn, may have a waiting period before your account is permanently deleted.
  • Review and remove all content. Before deleting your accounts, go through your profiles and remove any personal information, photos, videos, and posts that you don’t want to remain public. Check your “About” or “Bio” sections and remove any sensitive details. Additionally, look through your comments, likes, and shares, as these can also reveal personal information or opinions that you may not want to be publicly associated with.
  • Check privacy settings. If you choose to keep some of your social media accounts, ensure that your privacy settings are configured to limit the visibility of your personal information. Adjust settings to ensure only friends or connections can see your content, and consider enabling two-factor authentication for additional security. Be aware of any changes to platform privacy policies, as these can affect your settings.

3. Remove personal information from third-party websites

Now that you’ve removed your information from social media, it’s time to tackle third-party websites. These are sites that have often purchased your information from other locations and use it for advertising or marketing purposes. 

This step is absolutely essential, as these third-party lists are, in most cases, the most vulnerable lists, and are frequent targets of malicious actors who wish to steal valuable personal information.  

Use opt-out services

Many people search websites offer opt-out services that allow you to remove your information from their databases. Visit the respective websites, locate their opt-out forms, and follow the instructions provided. Some websites may require you to verify your identity by providing a copy of your ID or answering security questions. Keep in mind that the opt-out process can take several days or even weeks to complete.

Contact webmasters directly

If you find your information on websites without an opt-out service, reach out to the webmaster to request removal. Locate their contact information, usually found in the “Contact Us” or “About Us” sections, and send a polite, concise email explaining why you’d like your information removed. Be prepared to provide proof of your identity, if necessary. Keep a record of your correspondence in case you need to follow up or provide evidence of your removal request.

A good tip here is to go to Google, and do a site-specific search for an exact match of their contact information. Use this search command to refine your search: 

site:(website) “contact”. 

Your search as results should look something like this:

In cases where websites refuse to remove your information or the content is defamatory, consider consulting an attorney or submitting a legal request to search engines to have the content removed. Google, for example, has a form to request the removal of personal information from their search results. Be aware that this option should be reserved for extreme cases, as it can be time-consuming and costly.

Monitor your online presence

After successfully removing your personal information, periodically check the web to ensure that it doesn’t reappear on other sites or search results. Set up social listening with Google Alerts for your name to receive notifications when new content about you appears online.

reviewing contact information on the Internet

4. Protect your information moving forward

Now that you’ve removed your personal information from the web, it’s crucial to protect it moving forward. Here are some tips to help:

Limit what you post online

Think twice before sharing personal information online. Avoid posting sensitive data such as addresses, phone numbers, and birthdates. You can apply some of the email encryption methods to protect your sensitive information when sending emails. Also, be cautious about sharing vacation plans or photos with location tags, as this may signal that your home is unoccupied, making it a target for burglars. Consider creating an alias or using a nickname when participating in online forums or communities to protect your identity.

Use a VPN

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) helps protect your online privacy by encrypting your Internet connection and masking your IP address. This makes it more difficult for third parties to track your online activities or collect your personal information. Choose a reputable VPN provider with a strict no-logs policy to ensure your data remains private.

Stay up-to-date on privacy policies

Regularly review the privacy policies of websites and services you use to ensure they align with your privacy preferences. Adjust your settings accordingly, and consider discontinuing the use of services that don’t adequately protect your information. Also, be mindful of any changes to privacy laws in your country, as these can impact your rights and protections.

Enable privacy settings on your devices

Ensure that your smartphones, tablets, and computers have privacy settings enabled to limit the sharing of personal information. For example, turn off location services for apps that don’t require it, and restrict access to your contact list and photos. Regularly update your devices’ software to benefit from the latest security patches and features.

Use strong, unique passwords

Protect your online accounts by using strong, unique passwords for each account. Consider using a password manager to help generate and securely store your passwords. Additionally, enable two-factor authentication whenever possible to add an extra layer of security.

Be cautious with public Wi-Fi

Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks to access sensitive information or conduct financial transactions, as these networks can be easily compromised. If you must use public Wi-Fi, always connect through a VPN to encrypt your connection and protect your data.

The process of removing personal information from the web can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the website or service involved. It’s important to be both patient and persistent in this endeavor. While erasing every trace of personal information from the Internet may not be possible, one can significantly limit their digital footprint by following the recommended steps in related guides. 

Additional actions to protect your information

To avoid having your data show up on people search websites, exercise caution with the information you share online, utilize privacy settings on social media platforms, and frequently review the privacy policies of the websites and services you use. This will also help to prevent credit card fraud and other online scams.

In most scenarios, one doesn’t need legal assistance to remove information from the web. However, in cases where the published information is defamatory, infringing on copyright, or violating privacy rights, the advice of an attorney might be necessary. While it’s not possible to directly remove negative information from search engine results, one can request that the webmaster or site owner remove the webpage containing the information. 

When the page is deleted, it will eventually vanish from the search engine results as well. The cost to erase personal information from the Internet can vary considerably, depending on the services utilized and the extent of one’s online presence. Some services may impose a one-time fee or a monthly subscription. Some services, like Delete Me ($129/year), focus on removing information from specific websites, while others, like Privacy Duck ($500/year starting price), offer more extensive solutions.

Protecting your future

Removing public information about yourself from the web is crucial for maintaining your privacy and security in today’s digital age.

By following the steps outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can effectively find, assess, and remove your personal information from search engines, social media platforms, and third-party websites. It’s also essential to adopt good privacy practices moving forward to protect your information and minimize your digital footprint. 

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Hailey Lucas avatar

Hailey Lucas

Hailey built a 6+ figure freelance business in less than 6 months while working <15 hours per week and traveling the world as a digital nomad. Now, it’s her mission to help other freelancers who value financial, time, and location freedom accomplish the same. To learn more, check out haileylucas.com. More articles written by Hailey.

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